Following the news these days, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the volume of tragedy and violence unfolding all around us. Like many, you may struggle to know what to do or how to respond. You may even experience a sense of spiritual restlessness as you feel each new wave of grief wash over you. You may wonder if God is even hearing our prayers.
Marnie Hammar is familiar with this feeling, and today she offers us three lessons from the Book of Nehemiah to help us process our grief through prayer and fasting until we are filled with the peace of the Holy Spirit. Until we have the strength to rebuild.
As I brown the beef, I offer up silent prayers. As I back my car out for school pickup, I offer still more. Despair and dismay stay close as I process the latest heartbreaking headlines.
The division and unrest hang there, in the back of my mind, as I go through my day.
Pick up groceries. Pray.
Help with homework. Pray.
Sometimes my small life seems so disconnected. What can I do?
I’m grieved; I feel helpless, and praying doesn’t feel like enough.
As I wrestle, I turn to Nehemiah and find in this book’s pages parallels of the pain and grief I feel. Staring back at me from the very first chapter is Nehemiah’s response to the destruction of his beloved Jerusalem. I feel hope. Perhaps, in my grief, there is much I can do.
A PURPOSE FOR GRIEF
I didn’t anticipate the deep connection I’d feel with the brokenness exposed in these verses. As I read with fresh eyes of God’s people in great trouble and shame and the mighty wall of protection around Jerusalem broken down, and its gates destroyed by fire (Nehemiah 1:3), I felt it. I understood his heartbreak.
Aren’t we, too, in great trouble and despair?
Aren’t our walls of strength and unity also broken?
Aren’t the cinders smoldering as fires of hatred, blame, and conflict still burn at our gates?
Aren’t there crumbled pieces of what once felt strong lying everywhere?
I follow the lines to Nehemiah’s response: “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days” (Nehemiah 1:4a).
How many times have I sat down to weep this year? How often have I felt shock and sadness and confusion? Do you feel this too?
Nehemiah’s response makes room for my own grief. He felt it deeply, because even from a distance, he was part of it. As are we. Our grief has a purpose, no matter how close or far we are from the broken.
FROM GRIEF TO PRAYER
What I do with the grief is the turning point. Nehemiah moves from his grief to his God: “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).
That sense I had, that praying didn’t feel like enough?
I confess, as tragedy and violence unfold in our country, my short prayers from carpool have not settled me.
Perhaps that’s because the kind of praying I was doing actually wasn’t enough—not because He demands more of me, but because He has more for me.
Yes, He honors those prayers and works through them, certainly.
But when I seek Him with more intention and focus, He will give me more of Himself. The way Nehemiah deliberately turns to God with great intention ushers him into a deeper connection with God than I experience in my on-the-go prayers.
As cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah had the complete trust of the king. But in his grief and mourning, he didn’t just offer up those on-the-go prayers as he ran to the king. Instead, he drew close to the power of our God.
He chose to pause with God, not as a back-up plan, but as his first choice.
In my grief, I too, need to move toward God. That’s where my feeling of helplessness is transformed. We are promised that in our grief and mourning, God is near us. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
When we meet Him in our grief, He meets us.
When we draw near to Him, He is faithful to draw near to us.
Throughout Scripture, God’s people chose fasting and praying to meet with God, in preparation for what He had next.
Moses, before he receives the commandments.
Ezra, before he leads God’s people back to Jerusalem.
Esther, before she saves her people.
Daniel, before he is set apart in Babylon.
Jesus, before He is tempted by the enemy. Each paused to fast and pray before something significant.
Perhaps, then, in this present time of distress and division, this kind of praying is not the least, but the most I can do?
FROM PRAYER TO PEACE
These pages in Nehemiah speak reminders I know in my heart: In my unrest, I must pursue His rest. If I don’t have peace, I must seek my King.
Of course I know and believe that He’s at work in all things—that His plans stand firm forever—but if I don’t have peace, I haven’t joined Him where He is. The supernatural peace He offers does not always come after I pray a few sentences, however heartfelt they are.
Have I prayed for my country? My president? My leaders? My pastor?
Have I prayed for those who carry hurt and hatred in their hearts? For those I may not agree with?
Have I confessed my own sins?
Have I prayed for deliverance? For restoration?
When in my grief I turn to prayer—to seek and sit with God—He offers me the supernatural peace that comes through connection with His Spirit—even in times of confusion. When I empty my burdens to Him, I am refilled with Him.
Nehemiah emerged from his time of fasting and praying with peace and a resolve to rebuild. God’s blessing followed every step and every decision he made, leading to the miraculous rebuilding of a new wall in just 52 days.
With God, what’s been broken can be rebuilt and restored.
May we not undervalue and underutilize the potential of God’s power unlocked through the choice to fast and pray—the choice to intentionally meet with Him. This work to rebuild here, now, is not yet finished. Let us go to our King, for we are His cupbearers too. May we enter boldly before His throne of grace.
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NJKV).
CLOSER: FIVE POSTURES TO HEAR HIM LOUDER
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